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Saturday, 2 September 2017

Getting the first interview transcribed

The little demon in the photograph is my foot switch and it lives under my desk on the floor. It connects to the PC via one of the USB ports, and is nothing less than essential for the journalistic process. Every media practitioner needs one of these. Yesterday I transcribed an 18-minute interview - part of the work toward my first story since relaunching to work as a freelancer - and the task took around two hours. I cannot imagine how long it would have taken without this device. But it took a good while to get it set up the way I needed it to be set up.

I initially went down to the local office supplies store last month to look for a digital voice recorder. The sales people in the store didn't know enough to help me even though they had some Olympus models in stock, so I phoned a specialist transcription company that also sells equipment. They recommended a kit including the RS-28H foot switch (which works correctly with Windows 10 computers) and the Express Scribe transcription software, in addition to the voice recorder and the phone pick-up mic that I needed. I paid with a credit card and the parcel arrived the next day.

But the software refused to recognise the foot switch, even after the retailer gave me detailed instructions to follow designed to enable me to configure it, so I got in touch with Olympus directly. (Their Twitter account is monitored on a daily basis but it's not a happy medium. It's not really fast enough to use this method of contact when you are in a hurry.) The customer service people eventually called me back and told me what I needed was the ODMS Transcription Module, which the same retailer sold me for an additional sum. It cost me $670 all-up for all the gear.

Suffice to say that the Olympus software identified the Olympus foot switch immediately and let me configure it straight away, and correctly. The Express Scribe software had failed completely, ending up having the left pedal fast-forwarding when I need it to rewind. So from go to woe it took two-and-a-half weeks to get the first transcription done.

And I think transcribing is an essential part of the job. It's not good enough to farm out the work to a transcription company, because the results will not be reliable enough to use in your story. People don't talk in complete sentences, the way they may often write in complete sentences. There are ellipses and hesitations, false starts and a good amount of "filler": the causal words we put in (often at the beginning of a sentence) to help us orient our ideas around the topic at hand.

There is also the issue of technical jargon which, as a journalist working on a story, you will be gradually becoming acquainted with, but that someone with no knowledge of the topic would probably be ignorant of. You also have to consider the appropriate use of punctuation. This can be something that you have your own rules for, or for which you follow external guidelines such as an industry style guide. Different publications will have their own ways of handling things like ellipses, quotes etcetera.

So being able, for example, to rewind the recording and review what someone has said on it, is essential if you want to get clean copy at the end. And you really have to do it yourself to get the accuracy you need.

Doing it yourself instead of paying someone else to do it also helps you to become reacquainted with the material you need to write your story. This pause for refreshment can be helpful because it can give you new ideas and assist you to organise your thoughts in preparation for forming the story. I think that doing your own transcriptions is part of good media practice, and if asked I would recommend every journalist do it themselves.


1 comment:

residentjudge said...

I quite like transcribing, and as you say, it gives you a great familiarity with the material. It is terribly time consuming but it's a good alternative activity when you don't want to have to think too much. We bought a footpedal at our historical society that worked well with Express Scribe (Alto Edge) and it's a shame that you had so much trouble getting them to work together.